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COVID-19: Criminal penalties may increase during emergency

The State of Texas (and the rest of the U.S.) has recently become crippled by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott declared a statewide emergency, as the state gears up to begin testing for COVID-19.

Visits to nursing homes, prisons, and daycares are now limited. State workers are required to work from home. What's worse, restaurants, bars, and stores are shutting down in communities across Texas.

The ghost town scenes in usually-bustling Texas cities is detrimental to our culture and way of life. Unfortunately, we must endure these tough measures in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities. For the time being, we don't know how long this will last or what will come next.

What does a Texas state of emergency entail?

The governor can declare a state of emergency under the the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 (Texas Government Code 418.014) in order to:

  • Reduce vulnerability and risk to state residents and communities.
  • Prepare for prompt rescue, assistance, and medical care.
  • Help people and properties impacted by disaster to recover.
  • Strengthen the role of government and state agencies.
  • Provide and coordinate disaster migitation and relief.

How can a state of emergency affect my criminal case?

The problem with statewide emergencies is the draconian actions of law enforcement and harsher penalties for people accused of crimes under Texas Government Code 418.014.

Under Texas Penal code Sec. 12.50, penalties increase for offenses committed in areas subject to a:

  • Texas State of Disaster declared by the governor
  • National emergency declared the the U.S. President
  • State emergency evacuation order

The penalties for certain offenses (under subsection B) may be prescribed to the next higher category of offense, if the court concludes that the offense was committed during the time of an emergency. For example, an offense that would normally result in a misdemeanor charge may result in a felony charge. These offenses include:

If an offense committed under subsection B is a Class A misdemeanor (which is punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $4,000 fine), the minimum term of confinement increases by 180 days under H.B. No. 1028. Penalties may also increase if an offense is a felony in the first degree.

Can I seek legal help during covid-19?

While several businesses and state agencies are heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the criminal defense attorneys at the Webb Law Firm, P.C. will still be available to help clients.

If you are facing criminal charges, don't hesitate to consult with us and discuss your legal options. You can contact us online or call our Conroe law office at 936-647-3352.

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